Collinwood, OH Terrible School Fire, Mar 1908 - continued
Flames Spread with Rapidity.
The flames spread with such terrific rapidity that within thirty minutes from the time the fire was discovered the schoolhouse was nothing but a few blackened walls, surrounding a cellar filled with corpses and debris.
The firemen dashed into the blazing wreckage and with their bare hands worked in the most frantic manner with the hope of saving a few more lives. They were unsuccessful, for none was taken alive from the ruins after the floors collapsed.
The greater majority of the little bodies that were taken from the ruins were burned beyond all possible recognition. And it is no small part of the sorrow which is bearing down the people of Collinwood that positive identification of many of the children will never be made.
Piled Against Locked Door.
One of the scenes of horror that attended the fire occurred at the rear doorway of the building before the firemen arrived. This door, like the one in front, opened inward and it was locked. The children were piled up high against it, and when it finally was broken down by their weight and by the fire that had partly burned and weakened it the women who had gathered outside saw before them a mass of white faces and struggling bodies. The flames swept over the aisle, while the women stood helpless, unable to lend a hand to aid the children. Many of the women were unable to withstand the sight and dropped fainting to the ground.
The Fire Department was late in reaching the building, and when it came the apparatus was inadequate and the men were volunteers, there being no paid Fire Department in the suburb. The water pressure was not sufficiently strong to send a stream to the second-story windows. Moreover, the firemen had no ladder that would reach to the third floor. The volunteers did what they could, but withing a few moments after their arrival the task was one for ambulances alone.
After the bodies had been taken to the extemporized morgue in the Lake Shore shops, they were laid in rows of ten. The first identification was that of NELS THOMPSON, a boy, who was identified by his mother, who knew his suspender buckle.
HENRY SCHULTZ, 9 years of age, was known only by a fragment of his sweater.
The third identification was that of IRENE DAVIS, 15 years of age, whose little sister pointed out a fragment of her skirt.
Among those who sought vainly through the Morgue for their children was MRS. JOHN PHILLIS of Poplar Street, whose fifteen-year-old daughter is among the dead. Her attention was called to the fire by her four-year-old son, who called her to come to the window. "and see the children playing on the fire-escape." MRS. PHILLIS ran to the schoolhouse and found her daughter among those pwnned in around the front door. She took hold of her hands, but could not pull her out.
"I reached in and stroked her head," said MRS. PHILLIS, "trying to keep the fire from burning her hair. I stayed there and pulled at her, and tried to keep the fire away from her till a heavy piece of glass fell on me, cutting my hand nearly off. Then I fell back, and my girl died before my face."
DAN CLARK, 8 years old, was identified by a little pink bordered handkerchief in which he had wrapped a new bright green marble. The body of RUSSELL NEWBERRY, 9 years old, was made known by a fragment of a watch chain.
At 10 o'clock to-night it was said that sixty bodies had been identified.
Deputy Coroner HARRY McNEIL, who was to-night in charge of the Morgue in the Lake Shore depot, declared that the faces of nearly all the bodies were so badly burned that it would be impossible to identify many of them. MR. McNEIL said:
"I have many portions of bodies and dozens of hands and feet which have been torn off and burned away, but which cannot possibly be identified. Two of the bodies are of women."
At the office of the firm of architects who designed the building the plan exhibited to-night showed that the doors were originally designed by them to open outward.
The statement that the back door of the building was locked was made by WALTER C. KELLEY, the editor of the sporting department of The Cleveland Leader, two of whose children were killed.
Janitor HERTER could remember lieele of what happened after the fire started.
"I was sweeping in the basement," he said, "when I looked up and saw a wisp of smoke curling out from beneath the front stairway. I ran to the fire alarm and pulled the gong that sounded throughout the building. Then I ran first to the front and then to the rear doors. I can't remember what happened next, except that I saw the flames shooting all about, and the little children running down through them screaming. Some fell at the rear entrance, and others stumbled over them. I saw my little HELEN among them. I tried to pull her out, but the flames drown me back. I had to leave my little child to die."
HERTER was badly burned about the head.
County Coroner BURKE immediately after the fire said: "The constsruction of the school house was an outrage. The hallways were narrow and there was practically only one mode of exit. The children were caught like rats in a trap."
Youth Dies Rescuing Children.
HUGH McILRATH, who was killed in the fire, was the son of CHARLES G. McILRATH, Chief of the Collinwood Police. He lost his life in an effort to save a number of smaller children. When Chief McILRATH reached the burning building he saw his son leading a crowd of younger children down the fire escape. From the bottom of the escape to ground was a long leap, and the children refused to take it in spite of young McILRATH'S efforts. Some of them turned back into the building and McILRATH hastened after them to induce them to come out again, but was caught by the flames before he could do so.
GLENN SANDERSON, a boy 12 years of age, met his death in plain view of a large crowd which was utterly unable to help him. He was on the third floor in the school auditorium in which were a number of pieces of scenery, the floor beneath him was on fire, and young SANDERSON swung from one piece of scenery to another trying to reach the fire escape. He managed to cross the stage about half way when he missed his grasp and fell into the fire.
GEORGE GETZIEN, Superintendent of the local telephone company, was in his buggy not more than 200 feet distant from the school when he saw the fire shoot out from the front of the building. In relating his experience he said:
"I went to the rear door and tried to force an entrance. Aided by Policeman CHARLES WALL, we managed to get in, but both of us were driven out by the fire. There were no children hear the door at that time, as I remember it. We ran around to the front door, but could not force it open. My opinion is that it opened inward. The fire was so hot that within fifteen minutes after I saw the flames I could not remain near the building."
HENRY ELLIS, a real estate dealer, was one of the first to reach the building. With his was L. E. CROSS, Superintendent of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern roundhouse. Together they attempted to rescue some of the children jammed at the rear door, and ELLIS remained at the work until his hands and face were badly burned.
"When I reached the school," he said, "the front door was closed and below I could see the flames coming through the floor. We knew we could save none of the children there, and CROSS and I went to the rear. The door had been broken open and the children lay five or six deep, the fire had already reached them, and I could see the flames catch first one and then another. I saw one girl who chould not have been more than 10 or 11 years old protect her little brother, who was not more than 6."
Fire Caught Them in a Minute.
"He cried for help and clung to her hand. She encouraged him and covered his head with a shawl she was wearing, to keep the flames away. The fire caught them in a minute and both were killed. CROSS and I thought that the work of getting the children out would be easy, but when we attempted to release the first one we found it was almost impossible to move them at all."
"We succeeded in saving a few who wer near the top, but that was all we could do. The fire swept through the hall, springing from one child to another, catching their hair and the dresses of the girls. Their cries were dreadful to hear."
Deputy State Fire Marchal NATHAN FEIGENBAUM made an inspection of the ruins after the fire and to-night declared positively that the doors of the schoolhouse opened toward the inside, and that the rear door was locked when the children reached it. He declared that his investigation had so far failed to establish the cause of the fire.
The New York Times New York 1908-03-05